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I'm constantly running into problems, this time it's wannabe Pennywise again.

So, one of my characters is supposed to be emotionless but still, pretends to have them.

Problem is that I don't know how to write that as there are still parts where he becomes very angry when some random side character tells him that "His compassion and everything good he does is out of tactical advantage. He will never become a good person but he already knows this."

I already made his mind, here it is:

Behind the optimistic troll's facade, lies a person with no true emotions nor empathy, he knows what he should feel, but can never actually feel it. He's always using logic and good old science to avoid the problem of his non-existent inhibitions, but sometimes his lacking self-control can be heard in how he speaks, especially when agitated.

What I need is a recurring, obvious thing throughout the story, that is necessary and sufficient enough to signal that his emotions are fake.

Note: Psychopaths are somewhat emotionless but aren't necessarily sadistic killers.

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  • I saw an interesting idea on this over the weekend. An emotionless character took a type of medication - because one of the side effects was that it heightened emotions. This character needed more profound emotions. Maybe your character has enough self awareness to pop a pill now and then, of some medication where the side effects include effects on emotion. Taking the pill reminds us that emotions are a problem for the character.
    – SFWriter
    Oct 22, 2017 at 21:24
  • @DPT No can do, psychopath are "untreatable". Oct 22, 2017 at 21:29
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    @RedactedRedacted - you're proposed story (based on the snippets provided so far across multiple questions) already contains enormous amounts of handwavium and absurdly bad taste. DPT's suggestion is no worse than what you've already presented (and indeed, a lot better in some cases) and can provide a relatively plausible work around. I would not be so quick to dismiss if I were you
    – user18397
    Oct 23, 2017 at 3:27
  • As an aside, if you are continually running into problems with this attempted character, it might be a sign that you need to take a step back, look at it objectively and then decide if this is the right character for this particular story...or even if this is the right story for you at this particular time
    – user18397
    Oct 23, 2017 at 3:28
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    You appear to have answered your own question: What I need is a recurring, obvious thing throughout the story, that is necessary and sufficient enough to signal that his emotions are fake. If you are looking for ideas on how to do that, though, we can’t really help as that is off-topic for this site.
    – sudowoodo
    Oct 23, 2017 at 16:10

4 Answers 4

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I think you need to do a little thinking on what kind of character you really want to have.

Psychopathy and persons with an Antisocial Personality Disorder exist in real life and you can go to real life psychiatry forums or clinics or anywhere they'd allow you to get some real life research done for more information if you are concerned about authenticity.

Research into treatment in these cases are still ongoing, there's not a lot, and it's more accurate to say that it's not treated than it's not treatable in an offhand way.

Case studies are also a good way to go. It's not hard. You can familiarize yourself with the information within some months just by some YouTube psychology videos, cracking open a textbook or two, (not really the DSM - this is mostly just diagnostic criteria, which won't really help you understand it) and accessing some journal articles. Or you can find someone qualified to consult with if you have any psych major friends perhaps. Or you may be able to audit some lectures... The information is out there, you just have to find/gather it and read up.

When you understand psychopathy/ASPD, the next step should be to blend it into a fictional character. Decorate, exaggerate, embellish as it suits your needs while keeping it organic and real. Some information on archetype, maybe. Character motivations/needs.

With enough of a foundation, it will become very easy to sink into your character and understand how his gears work and what makes him tick. You can go through worksheets and really stretch him out and make him "live-in" so that it doesn't look like you are writing with a checklist of symptoms in mind.

Your story has to guide your character and vice versa, otherwise, you won't have an organic character, just an assimilation of loose ideas which I doubt you want.


In a more commercial work, there's often the "popular" psychopath/sociopath who isn't really clinically, "in real life" either a psychopath or a sociopath.

They self-declare themselves as sociopaths in order to be edgy or cool, when clinically, they'd be more likely to be someone on the autistic spectrum, or someone with another personality disorder (narcissist/borderline) gone homicidal and psychotic.

Fantasy (especially grimdark fantasy) and murder mysteries are full of these types. The grimdark ones burn villages and only pull their mask out on special occasions while the murder mystery ones have a high IQ and plan things out with clever twists whose masks slip maybe once or twice total.

If this is the case of what you're getting at with "untreatable", masked, uber-logical, frequently agitated psychopaths, you should consult TVtropes.com.

Audiences now have expectations as to what they're supposed to get when they see a synopsis that reads "there's a psychopath" in this." Is your story a slow police drama like Shield or will there be chainsaws falling from stairs in an overblown meta-satire like American Psycho?


I'd advise you to take a couple of steps back, gather information and let the whole process resolve itself into something natural.

It's really a peeve of mine when characters come out like "Hey, I'm the psychopath in the story. See my evil works. I revel in your awe."

There are lots of conditions out there that result in apathy, people lacking empathy or being overly logical or pathologically detached from reality. If you're going for authenticity, the only solution is research. If you can't put yourself in his mind frame now, you just have to rub the lotion in until you feel comfortable enough with it.

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What you described is Sociopathy (clinically known as Antisocial Personality Disorder) not Psychopathy (which is nebulous term at best in the clinical world). Your character has no empathy for the people he helps and only helps them because they are of use to him: either they will pay off in the future, or society will demonize him if he does not help them.

Psychopaths on the other hand, are not capable of this level of interaction. Consider the character of Sylar from Heroes and compare to the character of Killgrave from Jessica Jones. The former was able to at least conform to the expectations of others until he got what he needed from them. The latter was never able to pretend that he followed accepted morality standards.

On a more heroic side, Sherlock Holmes (especially of the BBC series) is often said to be a Sociopath (and the BBC one out and out identifies as one). Holmes doesn't much care about the people he is saving, but is aware that what is happening to them is deemed "wrong" and he should thus act accordingly and aid them.

For further help, check out TVTropes.org and look for the articles "The Sociopath" (about the condition and correct portrayal), "Sociopathic Hero" (about Sociopaths who are not evil), and "Moral Sociopath" (which details the phenomena in real life of Sociopaths having a Moral Code which values abstract concepts, but not necessarily on interacting with people. Basically discusses Sociopaths with a personal morality, even if they are still bad people).

All three articles include discussion of the topic and portrayal and extensive lists of it's portrayal in various works of fiction (They may also have real life examples, but some articles are reality free for various issues, including slander concerns and flame wars).

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A sample character that may prove helpful to you (or facets of others from this TV series), peruse traits from Person of Interest's Dr. Sameen Shaw. I do realize you specified your character is male.

"She has little concern for her victims, along with a flat affect and few demonstrable emotions. As she removes a bullet from her abdomen after a failed operation, she explains why she left medical school, remarking ironically that she was "better at killing people than fixing them."

As far as I can tell, that is psychopathy.

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Um from what I learned in Psych 101 your definitions are a little off, Psychopaths are crazy killers, Sociopaths don't experience or understand emotion and may or may not also be Psychopaths. The two categories have a massive overlap but they are not quite interchangeable terms.

Anyway to actually answer the question; if the character's internal dialogue is accessible to your audience then simply having them remark to themselves as to the effectiveness of their emotional ruse after such an outburst would tell the reader that, whether true or not, the character believes themselves to be entirely without genuine emotional responses.

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